Brooklyn Boro

Faith In Brooklyn for Feb. 19

February 22, 2015 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Stephanie Argueta (striped shirt) teaches merengue, bachata and salsa steps. With her in the foreground is Jefferson Walters, who also nimbly taught freestyle ballroom dancing.
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World Dance Party Joins Two Brooklyn Congregations

Dancers Explore Hebrew Horas, Salsa, Ballroom Freestyle, More

Shared meals have for long been a bridge to interfaith cooperation, but don’t forget about dancing!

On Sunday, Feb. 8, members of East Midwood Jewish Center (EMJC) hosted a world dance party in its grand ballroom, where they and neighboring Our Lady of Refuge parishioners together learned the Greek Misirlou, merengue, bachata, salsas and Hebrew circle horah dances.

The world dance party was the brainchild of Shereen Rosenthal and Interfaith Comm-ittee members, as part of a joint-congregation tradition that dates back almost 20 years.

Sally Hipscher and other participants took turns teaching their cultural dances to each other. The intergenerational group of about 40 dancers ranged in age from toddler to senior citizen.

Hipscher taught the Mayim and Nigun Atik Hebrew dances as well as the Virginia Reel American square dance. Stephanie Argueta taught the enthusiastic crowd the merengue, bachata and salsa Latin dances. And Shabanna, Ghayena, Kareen and Yvette taught some Caribbean and Haitian dances, such as the Pa de Baz Kompa and Cotton-Eyed Joe. Rounding it out was Jefferson Walters’ nimble leadership of ballroom freestyle dancing.

Working with the participants’ different skill levels and mobility, the leaders encouraged all of them to simply have fun and learn about each other through movement.

Sister Celia Deutsch, a member of the religious order of Our Lady of Sion, whose ministry focuses on interfaith relations and justice, told INBrooklyn that the Interfaith Committee originally was established in 1996 when Fr. Andy Struzzieri was pastor of Our Lady of Refuge.

Knowing about Sr. Celia’s order, Fr. Struzzieri asked her to put together a community model Seder one year. Astutely understanding Jewish tradition, Sr. Celia pointed out that members of the Jewish community had to be included, as a Seder “is not a Christian thing to take over.” Then, a former student of hers put her in touch with Rabbi Alvin Kass, now emeritus after leading EMJC for 36 years. The two faith communities prepared the Seder together.

“That’s how it started,” she said.

Eventually, Sr. Celia recalled, members of EMJC pointed out that there’s more to Judaism than the Seder, and all sorts of activities grew out of that.

The two congregations also operate a food pantry. The Interfaith Committee now plans about five events each year, including the beloved Interfaith Thanksgiving, field trips, and a concert coming up on March 8.


Choir’s Latest CD Catapults to Top of Billboard Chart

The new CD, titled “Pray,” from the six-time Grammy award-winning Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir has already debuted in the #1 spot on the iTunes Christian/Gospel Albums chart.

Since its inception more than 40 years ago, when the Choir began with only nine members, Director Carol Cymbala has used a God-given talent for writing songs and instilling joy in her ensemble, all without being able to sight-read music. The 300-voice choir is a blend of ethnic and economic backgrounds, with members from a wide range of professions.

Cymbala believes that choirs and praise teams have important responsibilities to the churches they serve. 

“When we truly worship, we open our hearts to hear from God,” she said. “Church praise teams should never perform praise and worship. If we simply perform, our congregations become spectators instead of worshipers, and it is vital that we worship from our hearts in spirit and in truth. Worship is contagious, and when we worship as a choir and praise team, the congregation, in turn, begins to lift their hearts and worship God. I also believe our song selections should be simple enough that young and old — the diverse body of Christ — can lift their hearts in praise and worship together as one.”

Last year, the Choir’s previous CD, “Love Lead the Way,” also debuted at #1 on the iTunes Christian/Gospel Albums chart. For more information, visit


Eastern Orthodox Great Lent, Starting Next Week, Offers Poignant Traditions

Lent, the Christian observance of the liturgical year that lasts from Ash Wednesday through Holy Thursday, is a 40-day session of penitence and preparation.

For those observing the Western/Latin Rite, including Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran and some of the Reformed Protestant traditions, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 18. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, however, the Great Lent begins on Monday, Feb. 23.

Lent is traditionally the time for catechumens to be taught in the Christian faith in preparation for their being received into the Church on the Easter Vigil. For all Christians, Lent becomes a time of self-sacrifice, culminating in the commemoration of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. The rubrics for fasting vary among Christians — the Eastern Orthodox strictly adhere to categories of meat, dairy, fish and oils, while many Protestants just abstain from meat, or observe the two fast days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Eastern Orthodox Christians have some beautiful rites associated with Great Lent. Forgiveness Sunday Vespers takes place the day before the official start of the penitential season and is also called Cheesefare Sunday. It is the last week during which cheese and dairy products may be consumed before Lent. The poignant, 40-minute liturgy, which marks the beginning of the Great Fast, concludes with the “rite of forgiveness” as worshipers ask each other’s forgiveness upon entering the fast.

It is also the first time worshipers recite the beautiful prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian and make the first Lenten prostrations. Other Orthodox services during Great Lent include the Great Compline, which is observed at St. Nicholas Antiochian Cathedral on Mondays at 7 p.m., and the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, which is allowed only during the Great Fast.

The Divine Liturgy may not be celebrated on weekdays during Great Lent. The Pre-Sanctified Gifts service allows the faithful to receive weekday Communion for strength and sustenance during this season. It is observed at St. Nicholas Cathedral on Wednesdays at 7 p.m.

St. Nicholas also hosts the Lenten potluck dinners on Fridays at 6:30 p.m. In accordance with Lenten dietary disciplines, no meat or dairy are permitted. Following the meal is the Akathist (Maydeyeh) Service to the Theotokos, considered to be one of the most popular services of the Lenten period, and connected with the feast of the Annunciation on March 25.

Another tradition at St. Nicholas is the Pan-Orthodox Vespers on the Sunday of Orthodoxy (the first Sunday in Great Lent), observed this year on March 1. Vespers begin at 5 p.m. That morning, His Eminence, Metropolitan Joseph, who was elevated in December 2014, and Bishop Michael of the Orthodox Church in America, will concelebrate the Divine Liturgy.


Talks Focus on Various Aspect of Life in Israel

Congregation Mount Sinai has been engaging the community with discussions about different facets of Israeli culture and justice. Recently, the focus was on peace endeavors with the Palestinians.

On Saturday, Feb. 21, the synagogue will host Religion & Politics in Israel: A Conversation with Dr. Tomer Perisco. This is part of a Shabbat series with Dr. Perisco that begins Friday night, Feb. 20, at the Park Slope Jewish Center.

Dr. Perisco, a post-doctoral fellow at the Elyachar Center at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva, Israel, will lead a fascinating conversation on the intersection between religion and politics in contemporary Israel. Dr. Perisco is a specialist in contemporary Israeli spirituality, the history of Jewish meditation practices, Jewish renewal and secularization.

Another sponsoring organization is Israelis in Brooklyn, established in April 2010 to provide a sense of community for Israelis in and around Brooklyn. It was formed in response to a dilemma shared by so many Israelis living here: how do we pass along our passion and love of Israeli culture to our children, who are growing up in an American setting? Israelis in Brooklyn provides a framework for Israelis to start responding to this question by allowing them and their families to sustain and strengthen their Israeli identities through speaking Hebrew, singing, learning, connecting and celebrating holidays in uniquely Israeli ways.

The Park Slope Jewish Center hosts Dr. Perisco’s talk on Friday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m. A vegetarian potluck precedes the talk. Congregation Mount Sinai’s Shabbat morning services begin at 10 a.m., with Kiddush following and Dr. Perisco’s talk at 11:30 a.m.


Borough President Adams DeCries Murders of Muslim Families at UNC-Chapel Hill

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who leads one of the nation’s most diverse areas, has reached out to the families of those killed in the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill shooting last week.

“Brooklyn joins all those around the country and the entire globe who are mourning the tragic murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, all of whom were senselessly gunned down in Chapel Hill, N.C. this week,” he wrote on Thursday, Feb. 12. “These three young people were promising students and valued members of their communities, sharing a passion for volunteerism that we should admire and emulate in their memory.”

Borough President Adams added, “No one — especially not in a free society — should ever feel their life does not matter. In the wake of this tragedy, many of our Muslim brothers and sisters feel that pain because of the continued bias they face. As a former member of the NYPD, I respect the process that local law enforcement must follow to officially determine if this was a hate crime. Still, I find it impossible for anyone to deny that hate played a role in this crime. Our diversity is our greatest strength, and I pray that it will lead to greater understanding of each other and greater peace for us all.”


Brooklyn Christian Center Honors Elder Citizens

Proverbs 16:31 declares that “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life.”

Regardless how some people may feel about that verse, the Brooklyn Christian Center believes it is important to honor one’s elders. On Saturday, Feb. 21, at 5 p.m., the Brooklyn Christian Center’s Media Ministry will sponsor “Honoring Our Elders.” RSVP to Pastor Faye Braz at [email protected]. Admission is $25. The Brooklyn Christian Center is at 1061 Atlantic Ave., between Franklin and Classon avenues, in Prospect Heights.

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